Page 1116 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 8 April 2008

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makes it an offence to drive under the influence of a drug. However, the legislation does not authorise random roadside drug testing. In considering whether the ACT should adopt such laws, it is important to weigh the road safety arguments for preventing drug driving against human rights considerations and the harm minimisation approach generally taken towards drug users in the ACT.

Over the last few years, RDT programs have been introduced in almost all Australian jurisdictions, with Victoria putting in place a world-first random RDT program in 2004. These RDT programs test for a variety of drugs and use a number of legislative measures to allow saliva or blood samples to be taken. The Australian Drug Foundation recently released a report titled Drugs and driving in Australia based on an online survey of over 6,000 Australians relating to their drug driving habits. While the report notes that the media tend to exaggerate both the prevalence and impact of illicit and licit drugs on driving, its key findings are that while alcohol remains the drug of most concern in relation to road safety, drug driving is also of considerable concern.

There is evidence to suggest that illicit drugs impair driving ability and that driving under their influence increases crash risk. Of particular concern are THC—the active constituent of cannabis—methamphetamine, commonly known as speed or ice, and MDMA or ecstasy, as I said before.

The findings of the internet survey suggest that the proportion of people driving within three hours of using cannabis is comparable to the proportion of people who reported driving under the influence of alcohol. Pharmaceutical drugs such as benzodiazepines—for example, valium—are also implicated in a significant number of accidents and road trauma, although research is still ongoing regarding the prevalence and road safety impact of driving under the influence of prescription medications.

Victoria ran a trial during the first year of its RDT program, the results of which showed that more than twice the number of drivers tested positive to recent use of one or more of the three illicit drugs—cannabis, methamphetamine and ecstasy—than to levels of alcohol over the prescribed blood alcohol concentration limit, or BAC. These results should not, however, be directly extrapolated to the general driving population, as the Victorian RDT program targets particular subgroups of drivers, notably rave party-goers and truck drivers.

Anecdotally, driving under the influence of drugs is becoming increasingly common as young people in particular use drugs such as cannabis or methamphetamine rather than risk being caught over the BAC limit. This is supported by data from a small controlled study of RDT in Canberra in 2006, in which six per cent of the voluntary participants tested positive for one or more of the three drugs cannabis, methamphetamine and ecstasy—a figure much higher than expected in an opt-in trial. These participants had all passed the test for blood alcohol—that is, they had a blood alcohol concentration of less than 0.05.

Alcohol continues to be the drug found most often in the bodies of fatally and non-fatally injured drivers, followed by cannabis, amphetamines and benzodiazepines.

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